• Valerie Miller

The Autumn of my Dreams



People say, 'What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?' I say, they don't really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they're gonna do it. R.L Stine

My birthday falls on the first of January. This date has its ups and downs. One downer is that most people are still quite hungover from celebrations from the night before and forget. The upside is I get to make an extra fresh start each year with every new age.


When I celebrated a milestone birthday, I was in the midst of a major change in my life. My husband and I had decided to be adventurous. We'd thrown any sense of safety and security away and made a decision to move from Sydney to a new city. Wherever my husband got a job, was where we'd move to. Being a teacher, I knew my skills could transfer anywhere. As a result, Brisbane chose us when my husband accepted a job offer.


I celebrated my birthday in a brand-new city. I'd already made a commitment to find more balance in my life. To stop and be more mindful and grateful each day. To bring more Zen in my life. I was calm and serene. The total opposite to the frenetic way I lived and worked in Sydney.


I finally had clarity in my life. Soon after I made the commitment to start writing seriously so I could fulfil my life-long dream to become a published writer. It was now or never. I knew I wasn’t getting any younger.


I proclaimed to the universe that I would have a manuscript ready to submit within 5 years.


For the past four years, I've been working towards this goal. It’s been a sustained and steady journey and I've learnt a great deal about myself, including my craft as a writer. I've written one manuscript which was awful, but I learnt a great deal from it. I’ve completed workshops and courses on writing, read books on the craft, written short stories and poems (some published online) and I started a Master of Letters in Creative Writing. Next year, I'll be completing my final dissertation year. I started a writer’s group and created my author platform with a website and blog. My social media community is growing, and I'm connecting with many writers at different stages of their careers. It’s been a busy and rewarding four years.


There was one, small niggly thought that constantly took up residence in my mind. One question that I was always asking myself.


Did I leave it too late to be a published author?


I pondered this question often. I thought about it when I walked the dog, when I was reading and, while I was listening to podcasts about writing on the drive to and from school.


At times, knowing that I’m older as I pursue this dream does deflate me a little. But I’m stubborn, rebellious and persistent. I’ve also spent a lot of time dealing with my inner critique and taming the imposter syndrome. As a result, I’m starting to build resilience while nourishing belief in myself.


I know there have been writers that have published their first book in their 40s, even after 50. I discovered that Annie Proulx published her first novel Postcards when she was 57.


Although this award is for lifetime achievement, I didn’t start writing until I was 58, so if you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, well… Annie Proulx – Best National Book Award Speech 2017

I went searching and found other writers such as Laura Ingalls Wilder who was in her 60s when she published one of my favourite books as a child, Little House on the Prairie. I discovered that Elizabeth Jolley published at the age of 53 after many rejections. Frank McCourt’s first book, the Pulitzer Prize autobiography Angela’s Ashes, was published when he was 66 and Richard Adams published Watership Down when he was 52. He went on to publish over twenty more books. I know that there are many more other authors who have successfully published later on in their lives.


Although this knowledge gives me hope, it did also open up my thinking about why it took me so long to make the commitment. I started to do the Sliding Doors imagining. A kind of… ‘what if I had’ possibility.


One thing you gain as you get older is a little wisdom. I know my life is a happy one because of the decisions I’ve made; at the time they needed to be made. It’s easy to look back with your rose-coloured glasses on and wish some of it was different. But I’ve read and watched enough fiction to know it’s not that simple. Change one moment in the past, and your future will not exist as it is, in the present. If you don’t know what I mean, watch the 1946 movie It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart.


And so, I thought about it existentially.


When I made the decision to become a published author, I knew it was the right time.


For me.


I was more confident. The most confident I’d ever been in my entire life at that point. In fact, my resilience as a writer is stronger because of my previous life experiences.


I could never have done this in my 20s. Although I used to write. I never believed I was smart enough to be a published writer. I remember not applying for undergraduate creative writing degrees because of their requirement to submit a portfolio.


In my 30s, I was focusing on my new career as a teacher and in being a new mum. By my late 30s, I started to undertake post-graduate studies and began to direct theatre. It was these moments in my life that helped me to reap the confidence I lacked. My success in directing theatre and my high results at university fuelled my belief that I had the potential to write, learn and be creative.


The truth is, that if it wasn’t for my experiences, the challenges and successes, I would never have made the decision four years ago, to take my writing seriously. To finally make the commitment to become a published author.


I still have my doubts. I’m only human, but I’m better at being kind to myself. I also know that with a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, more balance and serenity in my life, there is no reason why I can’t be writing well into my twilight years.


The true take-home message from this article is that writing should be for pleasure. That age has nothing to do with success and that stories live in us regardless of how old we are. If anything, the older we get, the more experiences we've collected to fuel our imaginations.


I know that being published or achieving other accolades as a writer is a wonderful added benefit to an already rewarding activity.


Being published is the sweet cherry on top.

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Image courtesy of Leoba1 @Dreamstime.com

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